Natalie Babbitt grew up "only wanting to be an illustrator." Born in Dayton, Ohio, she spent her time drawing and reading her favorite myths and fairy tales. Her mother gave her art lessons and "plenty of paper, paint, and encouragement." When she was nine years old, Babbitt came across an illustrated copy of Alice in Wonderland and got excited about having a career illustrating children's literature. She studied art at Laurel School in Cleveland and Smith College in Massachusetts. Babbitt did not consider writing until much later, but her early passions would follow her to the creation of her own fairy tales.
Out of college, she married Samuel Fisher Babbitt and spent the next ten years raising their children, Christopher, Tom, and Lucy. She had begun work on a children's book, The Forty-Ninth Magician, with her husband when he became president of Kirkland College in New York. While her husband did not have enough time for writing, her sister wrote a comic novel that called for too much rewriting. Babbitt now says she learned three important things from their attempts: "You have to give writing your full attention. You have to like the revision process. And you have to like to be alone."
She put these lessons to use when, with encouragement from her editor, she ventured into writing and illustrating her own children's books. She thought she would do best writing in rhyme, and her first two books featured verse accompanied by large illustrations. Her next story, about a man searching for the perfect definition of "delicious," required that she move into prose. She soon developed a taste for words as sharp as that of her characters, saying: "There's always one best word, if you listen for it." Several years later, Babbitt wrote her best-known book, Tuck Everlasting. Since then she has continued to write and illustrate and also collaborate with other authors.
Natalie Babbitt concentrated on art while she was growing up, but started to write so she could illustrate her own stories. She combines two art forms with simplicity that few people could imagine, but describes it with familiarity and affection: "When you're writing a story, it's like watching a movie -- you describe what you're seeing in your head. And illustrating is the same thing -- you draw what you see in your head. I'm not skillful enough to draw exactly what I see in my head, but I do the best I can."